More than 70 percent of Nassau County residents approve of the job being done by their police force, with a majority saying officers are fair and refrain from misconduct, according to a poll commissioned by the department.
The poll, administered by the nonpartisan Siena College Research Institute, found in response to several questions that between 74 and 82 percent of those surveyed said Nassau police officers treated people fairly, understood community concerns, performed their duties properly and worked well with the community.
The department, which in recent years has contended with a series of high-profile scandals, also received high marks in questions about police misconduct — including racial profiling, unfair use of physical force and abuse of power — with 70 to 84 percent saying they believed the behavior was either somewhat uncommon or very uncommon.
Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, who said he fired three police officers in 2014 as part of an effort to root out corruption and misconduct following the resignation of former Police Commissioner Thomas Dale in December 2013 for ordering the arrest of a witness in a politically charged case, said the poll results represent strong community support for Nassau police.
"It shows very clearly that support for Nassau police officers is overwhelming," Krumpter said in an interview. "It really is a tribute to the cops, the men and women out there."
Commish vows more effort
Krumpter said the department would try to make more progress, especially in some minority communities and others with higher crime. He added he has already begun meeting with clergy leaders and planned to put problem-oriented police — officers who work closely with the community — back on the streets in coming weeks.
"We have let our cops know, everybody's been put on notice — what's acceptable; what's not acceptable," said Krumpter. "There are no excuses. This department will not tolerate serious acts of misconduct and we will deal with those acts very aggressively."
Nassau hired the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum with a $675,000 contract earlier this year to revamp its ethics policies.
The research forum and the police department created the survey, and the Siena College Research Institute polled 454 adult residents by telephone on Nov. 5-6 and Nov. 9-12.
The survey, which has a 4.6 percent margin of error, was conducted before the announcement in late November that a grand jury would not indict Ferguson, Missouri, police Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, or the decision unveiled Dec. 11 not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man whom Pantaleo had placed in an apparent chokehold.
Nonwhites not as favorable
The poll notes that white Nassau residents had a "significantly more favorable perception of police misconduct as compared to nonwhites" but that minority residents "did not perceive police misconduct as common, on average."
The survey given to Newsday did not include the figures to support that misconduct finding and also did not oversample minority populations — an approach often used by pollsters to analyze the opinions of those groups with a greater degree of statistical reliability.
Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant and pollster who mostly works for Republicans, said the poll's sample size and demographic breakdown was in line with industry standards.
Dawidziak said while Nassau's poll results are "very good," they're typical of the strong support that many suburban departments enjoy.
"In suburban areas, people tend to care more about law and order, you care about your home values, safety for your children," said Dawidziak.
When the results of questions about the regularity of police misconduct are separated by police precinct, residents who live in the areas of the First Precinct in Baldwin, the Third Precinct in Williston Park and the Fourth Precinct in Hewlett — which include some high-crime neighborhoods — indicated a slightly less-favorable view.
'I've set a tone here'
Krumpter said those results are based on "misperceptions" of a "small segment of the population." "Is this department perfect? No, it isn't," said Krumpter. "But since I became acting commissioner, I think I've set the tone here that we will not tolerate breaches of public trust."
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the research forum, an independent think tank that consults with police agencies across the country, said the poll will help form the ethics and other training that his group creates for the department.
"When you have such good numbers, it's hard to know what the department needs to do better," Wexler said. "I think we have to look at the data more carefully, we'll have to look at the precincts."
Krumpter said the department fielded 624 civilian complaints in 2014 — ranging from long response times to incidents that could be deemed criminal. Internal Affairs investigated 112 of the complaints, said Krumpter, who said he could not provide the outcomes of the investigations.
There were 540 civilian complaints in 2013 and Internal Affairs investigated 106 incidents, Krumpter said.
James Carver, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, said that while he disagreed with some of the survey questions, calling it a "push poll to elicit negative responses," the survey "confirmed what we thought all along: The overwhelming majority of Nassau County appreciates the hard work that the men and women of this police department do every day."
Percentage of respondents who either STRONGLY AGREED or somewhat agreed:
— Nassau County police officers consistently treat all members of the community fairly: 74.1%
— Nassau County police officers understand the concerns of the community: 81.3%
— Nassau County police officers perform their duties in a way that benefits all residents: 79.4%
— Nassau County police officers and the community work well together: 82.8%
Percentage of respondents who answered either "IS VERY UNCOMMON" or "is somewhat uncommon":
— Stopping people on the street or driving in their cars without a good reason: 78.4%
— Using more physical force than situations require: 80.0%
— Using offensive language when dealing with members of the public: 84.5%
— Targeting citizens, for example stopping them for questioning, based on age, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation: 70.8%
— Using the power of their position in ways that are inappropriate: 74.4%
ABOUT THE POLL: The Siena College Research Institute randomly surveyed by telephone 454 Nassau County residents from Nov. 5 to 6 and from Nov. 9 to 12. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.